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Natalia Yakubova (RU/HU)


The Changing Notions of “Alternative Theatre” and “Repertory Theatre” over Last Two Decades in the Post-Communist Region

In my paper I will try to sketch how, I think, the notions of “alternative theatre” and “repertoire theatre” have changed over last two decades in the post-communist region. My observations are based mainly on Russian, Hungarian and Polish theatres.

I till touch upon the following topics:

1) the notion of the alternative theatre in the socialist culture as necessarily oppositionist to the system of the repertoire theatre,

2) hopes connected with the democratic changes: that will be some mechanisms of the individual theatre formulas to emerge and function,

3) summary of the two decades in this respect: not so many newly organized theatres reached the status equal to the traditional ones,

4) despite the freedom of choice and in spite of all complaints about the system of the repertoire theatre system majority of young directors prefers to work there: is it a sign of the growing conformism or rather that the creative conditions of the repertoire theatre have been improved and/or still better than in the alternative sphere?

5) how have the images of the repertoire theatres changed over these decades?

6) does the notion of the “alternative” still work, and if yes, in what respect?

7) theatres and contemporary drama: to answer the question it is important to understand how the notion of “the contemporary drama” has been changing. For the late 80-s Moscow Mrozek and Beckett were contemporary because only then it was allowed to stage them for the first time, and precisely alternative theatres began to do it. But it was not only about theatre forms new for Russian theatre – it was also about the authors who by then had proved to be modernist classics. In this respect alternative theatres of the late 80-s thought precisely the same way as the repertoire theatres did: they searched for the “eternal values”, i.e. for the titles which could stick in the repertoire. As the consequent development of the movement of “the new drama” proved, contemporary drama must be perceived not as compendium of masterpieces, but as something consisted of much more ephemeral products, which, in spite of it, have to have chance to be tested by theatre. Repertoire theatre, with the standards accepted in the 20th century (shift from the literary text to the work of the director), cannot undertake such a risk. That is why the field of the experiments with the new drama is more and more “alternative” spaces: often open venues (as Moscow-based theatre.doc) which work with different artistic groups conglomerated around single projects. Another factor which brings closer “the alternative theatre” to the contemporary drama: as the analysts of the alternative theatre already noticed, one of the characteristic of it is that it always tend to incorporate (the traces of) the process of creative work over the production into the production itself. In the last decade, when the stormy progress of the new drama demanded to try on stage a huge number of the new plays, a sort of a  new form of such a “raw” performance has emerged: as if the artists would give us the hint how they would play it, when it is ready. We see the work in progress and adds a lot to the success of “the readings”.

8) one more facet of the affinity of “the alternative theatre” and contemporary drama: if we begin to consider as “contemporary drama” any text which is played on the stage, then the alternative theatre gives a lot of examples of “self-made” texts. Professional playwrights may protest against such a definition, but the fact remains. I do not see much difference between Bela Pinter’s plays which currently are played only by his own company and the plays by Grishkovets and Ivan Vyrypaev, originally based on the performances played by themselves and then distributed as “normal plays” and included by many theatres in their repertoire. Such innovative “dilettantism” (author, director, performer in one person) is usually accepted only on the territory of the alternative theatre. Here, via negativa, we see the limitations of the repertoire theatres vis-à-vis contemporary drama: they cannot afford the risk neither of ephemeral nor “raw” productions, and they cannot afford “dilettantism”. It does not only limit them in their choice of the plays, but in fact also in the choice of the modes of their production. Contrarily, the alternative theatre spaces gain more and more the image of the venues open to the experiments with the new texts, without obligations that the produced (halfly-produced) plays will necessarily be masterpieces; these are also places where spectator runs across unusual manners of drama-making, such as collective writing, improvisational writing, or documental theatre.